Before Matt Khirallah and Scott Hudnor founded an education advisory company in 2014, they were on the front lines in Dallas schools—Hudnor, a principal, Khirallah directing operations.
When they met 10 years ago at Uplift Luna Preparatory in downtown Dallas, they had different backgrounds and skills. But it was their common objective that would later lead to a successful business partnership in Big Rock Educational Services.
After college, Hudnor took a corporate job for three years, but it wasn’t his calling. In the late ’90s, he served with AmeriCorps at a public school, which sparked his interest in teaching. He became a teacher himself, then a district leader, and a principal.
The company has worked with more than 125 schools since 2014, and the results are tangible.
Khirallah worked for a nonprofit doing immigration casework and outreach, where his goal was to reunite families, before joining Uplift. There, Hudnor focused on instruction while Khirallah concentrated on things like budget, transportation, and safety. After two years, they opened another Uplift branch in Deep Ellum together.
They founded Big Rock in 2014 to help boost student achievement by bringing business strategies to educational leadership teams. They’ve since worked with educators at more than 125 schools and currently partner with about 15 locally. Khirallah handles operations and clients and Hudnor the instruction.
“We’re armpit to armpit, observing [clients], running data and meetings, giving them feedback, working with them side by side, not just saying go and good luck with it,” Hudnor says. “We’re in the trenches with them, so to speak.”
Hudnor and the leadership coaches might work in a school every week for a year or more.
“School leaders need someone there to be collaborative, understand what their unique contexts are, and build their leadership capacity to run it sustainably,” he says.
The results are tangible, with reading scores for students in third through fifth grades at Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary School increasing by nearly 13 percent and math scores for students at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School rising by 14 percent.
DISD overall has improved. According to Khirallah, there were 43 failing schools in the district in 2013, and now there are eight.
“We’re committed to getting it right for kids,” he says. “We set high expectations and know that even though they may not believe in themselves and other people may not, they’ve got it in them.”